If you can work your way through the sweaty, sticky mess that encompasses Hydrate on the weekends, then you will be witness to weekly strippers and the best drag show in town, monthly lube dancing and, as far as I know, the only bar that has a “hot ass” contest.
We’ll get to the weekend show in a minute, but it’s worth highlighting the Wednesday night drag shows at Hydrate, which offer Chicago’s most talented drag queens, including the infamous Miss Foozie, “Hello Pineapples!” (her signature line). Wednesday nights at Hydrate are just as packed as the weekends and the crowd gets totally into the drag queens, often becoming part of the entertainment. Additionally, Hydrate frequently helps out local talents by opening the stage for their performances-comedians, singers and dancers have all been featured at the club. If you’re feeling frisky, don’t miss lube wrestling held on the first Friday of every month. The popular event includes cash prizes and all you need is some skimpy clothing and a wrestling buddy. On the third Friday of every month there is a hot ass contest with cash prizes given out to the people who have the guts to show off their best asset for a $150 first place showing.
The decor at Hydrate is always changing, which keeps the bar interesting—you never know what to expect when you pass through the door. Overall, Hydrate is decorated to look more like a club then a bar but acts as both, attracting more of a sit-at-the-bar-and-chat-type of crowd during early hours on weekdays. Middle aged men can be seen hanging out at the bar on weekdays and anything goes on weekends, drawing younger crowds of shirtless young guys, the women who love them (and who love to avoid grab-assing douchebags elsewhere on the North Side), and the occasional older gay couple thrown in for good measure. Hydrate doesn’t open until 8pm daily and, with a coveted late-night license, closes at 4am (Saturdays at 5am).
From 10:30pm-1:30am every Thursday the bar features strippers, $4 Absolut cocktails and $3 Bud and Bud light bottles and Monday nights feature $1 drinks. Drinks take a pricey turn on weekends and, adding insult to injury, the drinks I’ve ordered have been barely enough to give me a slight buzz and I’m a lightweight. My avid drinker friends have also complained about a lack of alcohol in their cocktails. My advice: stick to beer. It’s a bit cheaper and you know you’re getting your money’s worth.
Music is hit or miss and depends greatly on the DJ, I’ve gone there on nights when the music is great and the DJ can really read the crowd, and I’ve been there on nights when the music is awful as evidenced by a lack of dancing. Hydrate switches things up regularly with different DJs making appearances. I stopped into the bar during Pride and it was probably the best experience I had there in a long time: the music was fantastic, everyone was dancing, sharing drinks, and having a good time.
“The sound system is pretty flawless albeit a bit too loud at times but what’s a little permanent hearing loss when you are rockin in the “Meth Free” zone or is it the “Free Meth” zone I can’t recall.”– Derek K. on Yelp (August 14, 2009)
Hydrate can get a little dirty and crowded on weekends. I have showered in other people’s sweat one too many times and have had to pry my shoes off the floor due to the excessive sticky residue that often covers the floor—be careful not to look too closely or you may find human fluids other than sweat… The other downside is that you may have to stand in a long line just to get in the door and then pay an outrageous $10 cover usually after 12am. Who wants to pay a cover after midnight? Then, once you get in, you’re lucky if it takes you less then 10 minutes to make your way to the bar, with an equivalent wait once you’ve ordered. Hydrate’s ego is a bit over the top for me, with the predominant attitude of everyone that works there being you’re lucky to be there rather than the other way around (this gets my vote). With that said, it’s possible to have a blast at Hydrate, particularly with the truly amazing drag shows. If you do go on weekends, make sure you’re in the bar by midnight when it’s a little less crowded and a little more enjoyable and, if you like Hydrate, you may also like nearby Circuit and Sidetrack. For more information, check out the Hydrate website.
[Editor’s note: from the “straight” point-of-view, I can say that Hydrate easily has the best and most outrageous float every year during the Gay Pride Parade. Hydrate was also once the notorious “Manhole,” where mischievous locals would urge their straight out-of-town guests to visit when boozing on the North Side.]